Most running shoes feel comfortable when you’re standing in a shoe store, but the true test comes several miles into your run.
Your ideal shoe corresponds with your running style and the shape of your foot.
In general, a pair of running shoes should last 400 to 500 miles. If your midsoles and outsoles are compressed or worn, it’s probably time for new shoes.
Road-running shoes are designed for pavement and occasional forays onto packed surfaces with slight irregularities. Light and flexible, they’re made to cushion or stabilize feet during repetitive strides on hard, even surfaces.
Trail-running shoes are designed for off-road routes with rocks, mud, roots or other obstacles. They are enhanced with aggressive tread for solid traction and fortified to offer stability, support and underfoot protection.
Cross-training shoes are designed for gym or Crossfit workouts or any balance activity where having more contact with the ground is preferred over a thick platform sole.
In traditional running shoes, feet tend to hit the ground heel first. This is because a shoe heel has an elevated cushion. With barefoot runners, it is the mid-foot or forefoot that strikes the ground first.
HOW DO YOU RUN?
If you own a well-used pair of running shoes, check the wear pattern on the soles to help determine your running mechanics.
Pronation shows a wear pattern centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel. It is the foot’s natural inward roll following the heel striking the ground.
Basic (neutral) pronation helps absorb impact, relieving pressure on knees and joints. It is a normal trait of neutral, biomechanically efficient runners.
Overpronation is identified by wear patterns along the inside edge of your shoe, and is an exaggerated form of the foot’s natural inward roll. Overpronation is a common trait that leaves runners at risk of knee pain and injury. Overpronators need stability or motion control shoes.
Supination (also called under-pronation) is marked by wear along the outer edge of your shoe. It is an outward rolling of the foot resulting in insufficient impact reduction at landing. Runners who supinate need shoes with cushioning and flexibility.
Cushioning shoes: Best for mild pronators, supinators or neutral runners for off-pavement runs. Provide increased shock absorption and some medial (arch-side) support. Some super-cushioned shoes provide as much as 50% more cushioning than traditional shoes for even greater shock absorption and stability.
Stability shoes: Good for neutral runners or those who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation. They often include a firm “post” to reinforce the arch side of each midsole, an area highly impacted by overpronation.
Motion control shoes: Best for runners who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation. Offer features such as stiffer heels or a design built on straighter lasts to counter overpronation.
Barefoot shoes: Soles provide the bare minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a thin layer of shoe between your skin and the ground. Barefoot shoes feature a “zero drop” from heel to toe. (“Drop” is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe.) This encourages a mid-foot or forefoot strike.
Minimalist shoes: These feature extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a heel drop of about 4–8mm to encourage a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, yet still offer cushioning and flex. Some minimalist styles may offer stability posting to help the overpronating runner transition to a barefoot running motion.
- Synthetic leather is a supple, durable, abrasion-resistant material derived principally from nylon and polyester. It’s lighter, quicker drying and more breathable than leather. Plus, it requires no (or very little) break-in time.
- Nylon and nylon mesh are durable materials most commonly used to reduce weight and boost breathability.
- TPU (thermoplastic urethane) overlays are positioned over the breathable shoe panels (such as in the arch and the heel). These small, abrasion-resisting additions help enhance stability and durability.
- Waterproof/breathable uppers use a membrane bonded to the interior of the linings. This membrane blocks moisture from entering while allowing feet to breathe. Shoes with these membranes keep feet dry in wet environments with a slight trade-off in breathability.
The midsole is the cushioning and stability layer between the upper and the outsole.
- EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is a type of foam commonly used for running-shoe midsoles. Cushioning shoes often use a single layer of EVA. Some will insert multiple densities of EVA to force a particular flex pattern.
- Posts are areas of firmer EVA (dual-density, quad-density, multi-density, compression-molded) added to create harder-to-compress sections in the midsole. Often found in stability shoes, posts are used to decelerate pronation or boost durability. Medial posts reinforce the arch side of each midsole, an area highly impacted by overpronation.
- Plates are made of thin, somewhat flexible material (often nylon or TPU) that stiffens the forefoot of the shoe. Plates, often used in trail runners, protect the bottom of your foot when the shoe impacts rocks and roots.
- Shanks stiffen the midsole and protect the heel and arch. They boost a shoe’s firmness when traveling on rocky terrain. Ultralight backpackers often wear lightweight trail runners with plates for protection and shanks for protection and support.
- TPU (thermoplastic urethane) is a flexible plastic used in some midsoles as a stabilization device.
Most road shoes are made with rugged carbon rubber in the heel. Blown rubber—which provides more cushioning—is often used in the forefoot. Trail runners tend to have all carbon rubber outsoles to better withstand trail wear, while road-racing shoes are frequently all blown rubber to reduce weight.
The drop of a shoe represents the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe. This primarily affects how your foot strikes the ground when you land. A low or medium heel-to-toe drop (zero to 8mm) promotes a forefoot or mid-foot strike, while a high-drop shoe (10–12mm) promotes heel striking. Note: Heel drop and cushioning are independent of each other. It is possible to find ultra-cushioned shoes that still have a zero or low heel-to-toe drop, for example.
This refers to the rigid structure around the heel. It provides motion control and is sometimes supplemented with a heel wedge, which adds support and cushioning to the heel. It can help those runners who are bothered by Achilles tendonitis.
Medial Post or Torsion Bar
These are located on the sides of shoes to help control excessive inward or outward motion. They are designed for the over-pronator or supinator.
- Foot size: Test shoes before you buy. One maker’s size 7 may differ from another maker’s size 7. Arch heights differ, shoe shapes differ, toe room differs.
- Try on shoes at the end of the day. Your feet normally swell a bit during the day’s activities and will be at their largest then.
- Aim for a thumbnail’s length of extra space in the toebox. The width should be snug but allow a bit of room for your foot to move without rubbing. Laces should be snug but not tight. Barefoot shoes are an exception: Heel and toes should “fit like a glove” without any extra space in the toes.
- If you wear orthotics, take them to the store and place them in the shoes you are testing. They impact the fit of a shoe.
- You don’t have to wear a shoe of your gender. Men: Try a women’s shoe if you have a narrow foot. Women: Try a men’s shoe if you have a larger or wider foot.
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